Thursday, 17 December 2020, 07:14
Last update: about 44 minutes ago
Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo denied that the overnight change in the draft legal notice for the Keeping of Wild Animals in Zoos regulations was influenced by zookeepers’ disagreement with the original version.
Over the past weeks a situation erupted after the government published the draft regulations for public consultation with a clause stating that the petting and handling of zoo animals will be banned completely.
Zookeepers were outraged by this, with L-Arka ta’ Noe owner Anton Cutajar threatening to force the newly appointed Commissioner for Animal Welfare Alison Bezzina out of her post after she expressed that she agrees with the ban, as she is against the idea of caging wild animals. Cutajar has since then offered to make a public apology if Bezzina was offended, after reports came out that the Police Cyber Crime Unit would be taking action against him.
Notably, 24 hours after the first version of the draft regulations was uploaded, a new version of the document replaced it, wherein the clause in question was changed to allow the petting and handling of such animals under the responsibility of the veterinarian responsible for the zoo. The ministry had said that the original version was uploaded erroneously and the latest version was the correct one.
This raised eyebrows due to certain noticeable contradictions between what is stated in the “correct” version of the draft legal notice and what the Minister himself had said prior to the proposed regulations being published for public consultation, with some suggesting that it was influenced by zookeepers’ comments.
The public consultation ended a little over a week ago.
On Wednesday, The Malta Independent asked Minister Refalo if it was the case that the change in the clause was influenced by certain comments from zookeepers who did not agree with the first version of the clause.
“This was not the case. We are not influenced by anyone. If we did not want to include it, we would not have put it up for public consultation,” he replied.
Refalo said that the ministry just wanted to see what the public’s opinion was while keeping in mind that not all zoos are the same. “So, we made this suggestion, which is an opinion after all, and we will work from there.”
Commissioner Bezzina herself had also said that this sudden change in the clause “looks very suspicious” during an interview with this newsroom.
Minster Refalo was asked to give his comments on this.
“I have full faith in the Commissioner Alison Bezzina. She is smart and works with the best interest of animals in mind,” he said.
However, he explained that this is a law that has not been amended since 2003, “so it is vital that the end result is one that reflects today’s needs.”
“I think that we tackled it well, that is, by ensuring that every amendment that went up for consultation incentivised more ideas,” he said, noting that no less than 1,500 public comments were submitted in total.
“Nothing is static, fixed or done yet. We have to keep listening to everyone’s opinion and do them justice, as every law should be applied in an ethical manner. Additionally, no zoo is like the other as they all have their own needs.”
Bezzina had also told this newsroom that having vets overseeing petting and handling of zoo animals was not practical and the Minister was asked for his take on this.
“I respect her opinion, but I have to say that there would not be any vet who would do anything that goes against their profession,” he replied.
When asked to give an update on the analysis of the public consultation, the minister said that he has not looked at the comments yet, but the ministry’s officials are analysing each opinion individually “and this is not a process that can be rushed, in order to ensure that the right law is created.”